Real Life

Olympic athletes’ fierce friendship

Lisa Carrington and Erin Taylor’s competitive spirit drives them to win.

By their own admission, Olympic kayakers Erin Taylor and Lisa Carrington have a weird relationship. One minute, they’re best mates, laughing at each other’s jokes, finishing each other’s sentences and gently teasing one another about their wildly different tastes in music. But come race day, Erin and Lisa turn into the fiercest rivals. Both want to win, and have the skill and determination to do so.

It’s an uneasy balance the athletes face as they switch from teammates in their K2 500 race to the individual K1 200. Competing against each other is an occupational hazard for the best friends, although they chose to see it as a positive. “It’s easier than you’d think,” explains Lisa (22), who will be competing in her first Olympic Games this year. “We have the same expectations of each other and at the end of the day, if there is criticism, it’s to make the boat go faster.”

“We were sat down and told that there would be times where our relationship wouldn’t be good,” adds second-time Olympian Erin (25). “But we looked at each other and we were like, ‘We haven’t had that. When is that supposed to happen?‘“

They share a range of similarities – both are pretty, blonde, straight-to-the-point and, of course, mad about kayaking. But it’s their shared determination to win that defines Lisa and Erin as two of New Zealand’s brightest medal hopes for the Olympics. And, as they say, where would life be without a little competitiveness?

“It’s not like we’d ever go easy on each other. Both of us want to see the other do well and we both want to do the best we can possibly do,“ says Lisa. “But we’d rather one of us beat the other than someone else!” laughs Erin. “We always want that first and second, and the better the other does, the faster the boat will be in the K2 500.”

Although they’ve only been a team for a little over a year, it seems as if the girls have known each other forever. It’s a feeling they have too, because neither of them can remember when they first met. They’ve always been around each other, even when they lived in different parts of the country – Erin in Auckland and Lisa in Ohope.

“I knew of Erin through surf life-saving. I’m a few years younger than her and I’d always be like, ‘Wow, Erin Taylor! She’s amazing!’ She’d have no idea who I was,” Lisa giggles.

Despite the fact they’re now favoured to win a medal in London, the pair didn’t grow up wanting to be pro kayakers – they wanted to be Silver Ferns. “We were in under-17 netball teams – Lisa for Bay of Plenty and me for Auckland – and we played each other,” says Erin. “We even played the same positions, so we were partners all the time, but we still didn’t know each other!”

Their hobbies don’t differ much either, but it’s hard to get away from sport – even their reading focuses on it. “I’m reading Andre Agassi’s book at the moment,” says Lisa. “I don’t think we can help it. Both of us come from sports-mad families.”

In the lead up to London, hardly a day will go by without the pair seeing each other – whether it’s at training, meetings or just hanging out and watching TV. “By the time we’re finished training, we just want to lie down,” says Erin.

“We have a shared music playlist we’ve made together, but our tastes are so different, it turned out rather eclectic,” says Lisa, rolling her eyes. “Erin likes some pretty out there music.”

“Yeah, but you only like pop and power ballads,” retorts Erin with a grin. It’s this light-hearted banter and their strong friendship that Erin says will get them through the intense expectations placed on them – from themselves more than anyone else.

“We do internalise that pressure, but the support and the trust is always there for one another,” says Lisa. “At the end of the day, we’ve got each other’s backs – that’s the most important thing.”

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